Conservatives tell us all the time how much they love embryos.

They speak effusively about them in conversation, publicly revere them, shed crocodile tears over them, accost strangers entering clinics over them, viciously troll people on social media over them, sermonize on street corners about them.

They even claim to have voted for an otherwise reprehensible monster they would never otherwise tolerate to lead them—solely because of them.

Republican people of faith regularly fall all over themselves, carry on wildly, and tear their garments in showy grief over embryos; unleashing all manner of histrionics at those they deem a danger – those who believe in a woman’s right to have autonomy over her own body.

And they do all of this, they claim, because they believe that embryos are human beings and they want those beloved embryonic human beings to be cherished, defended, and protected at all costs — which all sounds quite admirable were that the whole story — though it is not.

The problem with their breathless, tearful zealotry, is that once these embryos are no longer embryos, these supposed life-lovers often do not treat them like they are at all human.

Nine or thirteen or thirty-two or sixty-five years later when they show up in their communities and in their emergency rooms and along their borders, in need of food or refuge or healthcare or compassion—they are no longer something sacred or beautiful. Unless these lives conform to the narrowest and most stringent of criteria (usually being white, Republican), they are more often treated as threats to be neutralized and adversaries to be destroyed.

Embryos that grow into LGBTQ teenagers are not worthy of their protection now. In fact, they receive their contempt, bear the brunt of their jokes, and absorb the full damnation of their brimstone sermons. They cannot get married or use a public bathroom or get benefits for their partners without being assailed at every turn by these “lovers of life.”

Embryos that become terrified migrants fleeing crime and poverty and pressed up against the most urgent desperation, do not merit the passionate defense once within their borders they might have received while inside the womb. Instead they sustain their scorn and suspicion and every bit of their malicious, wall-building bitterness.

Embryos that become sick middle-aged adults fighting metastasizing tumors, facing astronomical chemotherapy bills, and desiring healthcare that will not drive them to bankruptcy — do not elicit a shred of the empathy they would have garnered when they were still microscopic.

Embryos that one day stand in need of Government assistance to keep the lights on or food on the table for their children because they have endured unthinkable adversity along their journey—will not be met with tearful embraces by these so-called life-lovers. They are derided as lazy and irresponsible, and told to pull themselves up by their boot straps, while never having the benefit of boots.

Embryos that one day worship in Muslim communities around these white Christians, are not afforded any passionate defense and aren’t celebrated with effusive social media soliloquies. They are branded as terrorist sympathizers, their religious freedoms ignored and their very existence resented with checkout line coldness, airport side-eye stares, and travel ban exclusion.

And perhaps most ironically of all, embryos that grow into women who desire the final say regarding their own bodies—will find their lives and wills are now of little concern. They will be legislatively subjugated by those who would have once declared them precious.

Recently at a Trump rally in Panama City Beach, Florida, as the President was speaking about the supposed crisis of immigrants overrunning our borders, someone in the crowd yelled, “Shoot them!”

Trump erupted in curled Cheshire cat grin, while sarcastically saying, “Only in the panhandle you can get away with that statement, folks.”

The crowded roared in their approval. Later they reposted clips on social media. They were proud of this moment. These are supposedly pro-life Christians. These are declared defenders of human life.
They are not. They are white Republican embryo lovers — and sadly that is it. Beyond that, you get jokes and threats and taunts and bans and walls and middle fingers — and “look how irreverent our guy is” giddiness.

A moment like this is revelatory because it exposes Conservative Christian’s willful delusion. By putting all their eggs (so to speak) into fervent defense of embryos, they can feel the intoxicating easy high of self-righteousness and moral virtue — without having to actually love people.

That’s because embryos can be idealized into something pleasant and palatable; devoid of any of the messy characteristics they find undesirable in actual human beings. They get to feel like noble advocates for Life, and still hold onto their prejudices and hang-ups and hatreds. They can dispense all kinds of cruelty and expose human beings to staggering forms of bigotry—and still say they’re defending the living.

It’s also why they can claim to be single-issue voters—because they are single-issue protectors of life. These people have no interest in a consistent pro-life ethic regarding healthcare or poverty or the environment or gun violence or the death penalty—because they will not let themselves sit with the hypocrisy of their current conduct toward vulnerable communities that this necessitates.

To live with any consistency would require an empathy that is simply too high a price for them to pay, it would demand an equity that encroaches on their comfort, and it would mean facing the reality of their privilege. It would be too confront their phobia and their nationalism and their whitewashed religion.

I wish white Christian Conservatives had the same passion for migrant children, school shooting victims, sick toddlers, young black men, Muslim families, LGBTQ teens, the environment, and women’s autonomy over their bodies that they have for embryos.

Then they’d actually be pro-life, and then we would all be able to go about the work together of caring for humanity wherever there is need to do so. Yes, white Conservatives love embryos.

Disparate human beings who bear little resemblance to them — not so much.

John Pavlovitz

Library of Congress, Alеx Wоng, and Tоya Sаrnо Jоrdаn

The original version of this Op Ed was published on

John Pavlovitz launched an online ministry to help connect people who want community, encouragement, and to grow spiritually. Individuals who want to support his work can sponsor his mission on Patreon, and help the very real pastoral missionary expand its impact in the world.